Reflective Practice: Developing Excellence

The Solution Focused approach concentrates on a rich description of the desired future and a description of the instances in which this future was already present. As a social constructionist approach Solution Focused Reflective Practice shies away from inner explanations and instead concentrates on describing the preferred future or the instances of this future already happening through many different lenses and perspectives. This way we are not privileging descriptions of our inner experiences as separate or more meaningful than our interactions. We take very seriously that we are who we are through our interactions with others, as the Ubuntu saying goes. For us, there is no “inner experience” without some outward criteria, descriptions, interactions.

So how can we reflect when a reflection is not about a story of our presumed “inner” experiences? How can we grow as coaches and clients, how can anybody develop through this different way of reflecting?

Suspend your judgement about “inner” and “outer”, “depth and surface” and have a look at  some possible ways:

In order to grow in anything, in order to be excellent at anything that we do, we need to be able to notice that we are getting better at something. We need to be able to identify the signs of improvement. Singers listen to their recordings, gamified language apps start with assessing what you already know, ice skaters and dancers watch recordings of their shows – coaches listen to recordings of their sessions.

Here are some questions that you might use:

  • On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is that I know everything I want to know and I am able to do everything that I want to be able to do, where am I?
  • What is telling me that I am already at that number and not at zero?
  • What are the concrete observable signs?
  • What are others noticing about me that tells them that I am already at that number and not at zero? (You can ask this question either hypothetically or by actually asking stakeholders)

This way, you get a detailed description of the skills that are already there and define an appreciative starting point. Incremental change that builds on existing skills is so much easier than starting from scratch: Evolution tops revolution.

Of course, as people grow in any type of competence, the description of the 10 is going to change. We all know about the Dunning-Kruger effect: When we know little about a subject, we don’t know how incompetent we actually are and are overconfident in our abilities: “the top of Mount Stupid” as some people call this stage. That’s why a detailed description of what competence would look like from different stakeholders’ perspective is quite useful:

  • Suppose I was the best version of myself (best coach, best client, best …) What would that look like?
  • How would I be noticing?
  • What would others be noticing?
  • How would they respond?
  • How would I respond to their response?
  • How would they respond to that response etc.?
  • What do I value about this? What is important to me about this?
  • What would others value about this?
  • If what I valued permeated my performance what difference would that make?
  • Who would be noticing this difference?
  • What in our interactions would tell them?
  • How would they respond?
  • How would I respond to their response?

Once we know what competence looks like (for now – this will always change, too), we can embark on a reflective description of the signs of immediate progress:

  • Suppose I move up one step on the scale, what would I be noticing?
  • What would others be noticing?
  • How would they respond? How would I respond?

By describing the incremental gains of competence in interactions, by describing the signs rather than the steps, we are primed to notice our progress. We are always working from a resource perspective rather than a deficit perspective. Noticing our progress, observing it has the advantage that our attention can be in the moment when we are performing whichever skill we are striving to develop. Nothing kills performance faster than a little Charlie sitting on your shoulder telling you what to do, criticizing you and pulling your attention away from what you are currently doing into an evaluative stance. In order to be present while performing anything, be it coaching, singing, golfing — whatever it is that you want to learn, it is much better to perform when you are performing, noticing all the things that are going well and to reflect when you are reflecting: later.

I would like to invite you to experiment with this descriptive type of reflection — it may sound strange — a reflection without soul-searching and without the construction of explanations and other stories about ourselves, but a reflection that stays “on the surface” and yet helps us to tell our stories in ways that make us stronger.

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